One of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2018 back into the spotlight. Jokes about another musical project impeding the appearance of a new Tool album aside (categorically untrue, but funny) the much-loved and missed band hasn’t so much as roared back into the light to get our attention, as they rolled through with a purposeful stride and made themselves known by clearing their throats. “Ahem. Pay attention dumbass.” What presents itself for inspection might be the best release from the band yet.
The sense of urgency of their earlier work has been replaced by mature songcraft and no need to rush into things. Although apc is a group effort, there’s no denying a sonic kinship in sway and groove on many tracks with Maynard James Keenan’s other band, Puscifer. Blending tempos and beats, adding in trip-hop and electronica uncovers depth, really pulling you into the tracks. In the past where the band would have boiled to a rageful peak, they soften into a wounded chill down. The effect is deliberately haunting.
From the eerie title track and its first notes, to the layers upon layers of vocals by MJK, drone-y guitars, post-rock like passages, a touch of keys and other ear candy flows in and out, like trance. Phrases both musical and lyrical are repeated like a mantra at times, seeming to hammer home a point, but never overstay. When MJK freestyles the last line of the single ‘’Disillusioned’ acapella, it stops you in your tracks. MJK’s philosophical mental workouts hit a high on ‘The Contrarian’. Preferring to reside vocally in his mid-range a lot, every phrase, every harmony, and vocalise just overflows with emotion. The entire album is one of his top performances ever.
While a lot of other modern heavy music waxes on topics like relationships, zombies, wizards, and other tropes there may not be a more pertinent to these times narrative than the lyrics of Eat The Elephant. This album is clearly pointing the finger at society, rather than inward. There is no mistaking the dire analysis of our current situation in the world; obsessed with fakery all around us, and the chicanery sabotaging us from the highest levels of leadership. This feels a lot like what the band hoped to achieve with eMotive before it was delayed from its intended release back in 2004.
Other tracks like ‘The Doomed’ and ‘Talk Talk’ are concerned and furious without being over the top. Brilliant writing all around. Billy Howerdel and James Iha work incredibly well together and are an underrated tandem. ‘So Long and Thanks For The Fish’ (sweet Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy nod there, bruh) predicts the end of the world with a whimper, not a bang. At least the way it’s been going, unless we make some changes, stat. ‘So Long…’ and ‘Delicious’ are borderline sunny and uplifting in a stealth way that Depeche Mode and The Cure used to pepper their sonic greys with rainbows. ‘By And Down The River’ seems to be the cousin of ‘By And Down’ which was a single a few years back.
As well-developed as any album the band has released, the later cuts are lush and thought-provoking. Instrumental ‘DLB’ with its mournful piano, could be a movie soundtrack set piece. Gorgeous. ‘Hourglass’ ramps things back up with synths and powerhouse beats from Jeff Friedl while ‘Feathers’ and the clever ‘Get The Lead Out’ bring things to a close, much like they began. No song stays too long, but a lot of them will stay with you once the music stops.
Pulling no punches in its serious tone and blunt lyrics, this is an album that without shouting it from a mountaintop might someday be considered be as important as What’s Going On, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Animals, We Shall Overcome, or Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Look them up. You’re welcome.). Eat The Elephant is the album we needed to feel right now from the band we needed to come back right now.